Looking at retiring? Lodge age pension claims early

IF you’re almost ready to retire and plan to apply for an age pension, get in early (up to 13 weeks early) and have all your documentation ready before you do.

That's the advice from Centrelink - and it's good advice if Kaye Stannard’s experience is a measure.

Kaye waited almost six months to have her age pension approved.

She admits she didn't apply for it until the day she was eligible - March 10 - when she went into her local Centrelink office; but, even so, she wasn't prepared for the "saga" that followed.

Kaye filled in the forms she was given and lodged them. She then received a letter saying the application was rejected because more information was needed.

This was duly supplied, but the application was rejected again, this time because Centrelink told her she had supplied the additional information too late. 

A phone call to Centrelink resolved that problem - the extra information actually wasn't submitted too late so the application could now be processed.

Contact Centrelink at least 13 weeks before you retire. Photo: Marina Neil

Contact Centrelink at least 13 weeks before you retire. Photo: Marina Neil

Nothing happened for another month so Kaye rang Centrelink again, at which time she was told there were many applications to deal with and only those applications from people in financial difficulties were fast tracked.

As Kaye was living on her superannuation she was not in financial difficulty.

Another attempt to contact Centrelink by phone resulted in her not even being able to get in the queue.

"I can't imagine how you would manage if you didn't have a local Centrelink office," she said.

Five months and three weeks after lodging her initial application, Kaye's part pension came through but she has complained to her local federal politician Luke Hartsuyker about the time taken to process it.

"The federal government has failed to adequately staff Centrelink to handle the volume of claims from 'boomers'," Kaye wrote.

"There is no excuse for this since the government is well aware of the number of boomers and that the majority will qualify for a part pension because compulsory superannuation was not introduced until 1993.

"With chronic unemployment in Australia of 5+ per cent (about 700,000), there are plenty of Australians who would welcome a Centrelink job."

Kaye says that throughout the process the Centrelink staff were polite and helpful, "but said they were overwhelmed by the number of age pension claims".

Kaye recommends contacting your local politician if you have having problems.

When to apply

The Centrelink website advises that you can lodge your age pension application 13 weeks before you are eligible. Eligibility details are available on its website, by phone or at an office.

If you are already age-eligible you can tell Centrelink of your intention to apply and then have two weeks to get your application in.

If you are already on an income supplement Centrelink says it will write to you nine weeks before you reach age pension age and tell you what you can do to transfer to the age pension.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the department assessed more than 156,000 age pension claims in 2015-16 and of these more than 10 per cent were rejected as the claims lacked "crucial information".

When The Senior contact the Department of Human Services a spokeswoman said the department worked hard to ensure all claims were processed efficiently, in as little time as possible.

"Processing times can vary depending on the complexity of the individual case, and how many claims have been submitted to the department at any one time," she said. "To ensure claims are processed as quickly as possible, we encourage all claimants to submit all the necessary supporting documentation at time of initially lodging the claim."

She said the government was streamlining the claim process and improving the user experience for those who claim online.

"The new online claim will help ensure more claims contain all the information needed so they can be processed quickly."

She said the department routinely adjusted staffing arrangements during periods of peak demand, such as the end of the financial year. In recent months, 200 more staff had been allocated to age pension processing to manage the peak period.

"There are now fewer outstanding age pension claims than at any time in the past three years," the spokeswoman said.

She said anyone experiencing severe financial hardship could have a straightforward claim processed in a few days.

  • To contact Centrelink 13 23 00 or go online.